The bread slicing machine was invented 15 years before sliced bread became popular. Sliced bread didn’t catch on because Otto Rohwedder, the guy who invented the first slicing machine, expected people to want it before they even knew about it.
Unfortunately for him, bakers were convinced that factory sliced bread would lead to sad, stale, crumbly loaves. For decades, his brilliant invention flew under the radar.
This is until Wonder Bread came along. Instead of trying to sell sliced loaves of bread to people just because it’s a good idea, they crafted a story around the ‘magical’ properties of Wonder Bread.
There is nothing special or nutritious about Wonder Bread. It’s just white bread. The product succeeded because the company was able to convince people otherwise through their (often problematic) marketing.
People weren’t just buying the bread. They were buying a story.
By the 1930s, people had begun to equate the softness of bread with its freshness. Store bought loaves were getting so soft that they were becoming increasingly difficult to slice by hand. Wonder Bread positioned themselves as the answer.
They got people passionate about Wonder Bread, and the story spread like wildfire.
During WWII the US Government placed a temporary ban on sliced bread effective January 18 1943. On January 26, the following letter from a ‘distraught housewife’ was published in the New York Times.
I should like to let you know how important sliced bread is to the morale and saneness of a household. My husband and four children are all in a rush during and after breakfast. Without ready-sliced bread I must do the slicing for toast—two pieces for each one—that’s ten. For their lunches I must cut by hand at least twenty slices, for two sandwiches apiece. Afterward I make my own toast. Twenty-two slices of bread to be cut in a hurry!
The ban was lifted in March of the same year. People had been sold, and sliced bread was here to stay.
We buy stories every day, often without even knowing.
Every purchase we make says something about us, and advertisers know it.
Perhaps instead of the best thing since sliced bread, we should be pondering what the best story is since sliced bread.
Look out for these stories next time you’re at the shops. Make sure the stories you’re buying are honest.